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Looking for an RT Hibernation "Mentor"

Oxalis

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In this thread, @Tom mentioned seeking out a "mentor" who has experience in successfully hibernating Russian tortoises. So I am looking for you! Or any ideas of potential helpful peeps... Thanks! :)

A little background:
My boyfriend and I are interested in hibernating Steve, our male Russian who's somewhere between 10 and 25 yrs of age (the vet had to guess; I received Steve from an acquaintance). The vet said he's in very good health and has recently grown a lot. We live in Michigan so our winters can be harsh; although I'm not cruel -- Steve will be indoors during the colder months!!! Along with his 96 sq. ft. garden enclosure in our backyard, he has his own bedroom with a 4' x 4' tortoise table, so he's pretty spoiled. I'm thinking November is a good time to at least start him slowing down for sleepy time, as he is usually getting less active around this time of the year (I've had him since Nov. 2009). I'm mostly looking for help with hibernation setup, temp/humidity monitoring, lighting issues, that sort of thing. Of course, any info would be extremely helpful! I have read through some of the hibernation pages on the Tortoise Trust website, but I would feel more comfortable knowing some members I can go to for help and hearing from members who are confident in their tortoise hibernation abilities! ;) Thanks in advance!
 

Tom

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I'd be glad to help you. Perhaps we could correspond right here on your thread so everyone can read along. We might both learn something with interaction from other keepers too.
 

Jodie

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I am going to hibernate for the first time this year as well, so it would be great if this thread continues.
 

Oxalis

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Hurray for collaboration!! :D Thanks for input.
 

Jodie

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I think waiting for questions. I am thinking I will start the extra soaks in October and probably stop feeding and cool down mid October. I am planning to buy one of those beverage fridges with the glass door. I like the digital read out . I will put at least 3 separate thermometers in their. I have a bunch of the plastic shoe boxes for each tortoise. I haven't decided on the medium to use for sure. I believe Russians are hibernated with fairly low humidity, 40%. Lights are not needed though I am pretty sure.
As I start the process, I know I am going to have tons of questions.
 

dmmj

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a good rule of thumb for hibernating Russians you want them to go in with empty stomach and full bladders.are you going to hibernate indoors or out let them do it naturally force them into it
 

Jodie

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Indoors. My winters are too cold. We usually have a foot or so permafrost, elow freezing highs for several weeks. Then all the sudden mid 50's, and back to freezing. Some winters very little snow, some several feet in a few days.
Winter is like a box of chocolates for us. You never know what you're going to get. :)
 

ascott

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In this thread, @Tom mentioned seeking out a "mentor" who has experience in successfully hibernating Russian tortoises. So I am looking for you! Or any ideas of potential helpful peeps... Thanks! :)

A little background:
My boyfriend and I are interested in hibernating Steve, our male Russian who's somewhere between 10 and 25 yrs of age (the vet had to guess; I received Steve from an acquaintance). The vet said he's in very good health and has recently grown a lot. We live in Michigan so our winters can be harsh; although I'm not cruel -- Steve will be indoors during the colder months!!! Along with his 96 sq. ft. garden enclosure in our backyard, he has his own bedroom with a 4' x 4' tortoise table, so he's pretty spoiled. I'm thinking November is a good time to at least start him slowing down for sleepy time, as he is usually getting less active around this time of the year (I've had him since Nov. 2009). I'm mostly looking for help with hibernation setup, temp/humidity monitoring, lighting issues, that sort of thing. Of course, any info would be extremely helpful! I have read through some of the hibernation pages on the Tortoise Trust website, but I would feel more comfortable knowing some members I can go to for help and hearing from members who are confident in their tortoise hibernation abilities! ;) Thanks in advance!
 

Yvonne G

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My Russians live outside, but I can't allow them to hibernate outside as we get too much rain here (cold/wet=very bad). So I leave them alone until I don't see them anymore in the fall. Then its an all out search party trying to find where they've all dug themselves in. But I usually do find them all. By this time they have emptied their stomachs and digestive systems and have slowed down and are ready to sit quietly in a box of shredded paper in a cool, dark and quiet place.
 

Oxalis

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I think waiting for questions. I am thinking I will start the extra soaks in October and probably stop feeding and cool down mid October. I am planning to buy one of those beverage fridges with the glass door. I like the digital read out . I will put at least 3 separate thermometers in their. I have a bunch of the plastic shoe boxes for each tortoise. I haven't decided on the medium to use for sure. I believe Russians are hibernated with fairly low humidity, 40%. Lights are not needed though I am pretty sure. As I start the process, I know I am going to have tons of questions.
Thanks! I'm pretty much in the same boat. I was thinking of just about the very same procedure for my Russian.
 

Yvonne G

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Do you do anything for humidity? You use a shed outside, not a fridge right?
They are in an outdoor shed in a dry cardboard box filled with dry shredded newspaper. The only humidity is whatever their breath provides.
 

dmmj

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if you hibernating indoors where are you doing it? He can't be in a heated room or it defeats the purpose
 

dmmj

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if you use the fridge make sure you don't put them in the vegetable crisper dehydrate them and kill them. if it has one that is :)
 

Tom

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Here is a response I typed up the other day"


"Do tortoises know when to stop eating in preparation for hibernation? Or are we supposed to know when to stop feeding them in preparation for hibernation? My turtles seem to be hibernating, haven't seen them in a few days. The three toed is the first to disappear, then the ornate a week or so later. My AZ desert tortoise yearlings still seem to want to eat, although not as much. It's still warm here though. I want to hibernate my tortoise yearlings inside but don't know when to do it. I put them out during the day still and bring them in in the late afternoon.
Could be either or both."

Here is a reply I did for someone else's thread yesterday about this subject. Maybe it will help you too AZTorts.

"They will not be able to hibernate at room temp. Its too warm. You will need to decide to either keep them up, or hibernate them properly. Right now they are in a bit of a "limbo", and that is not good. I've used the following methods for dozens of DTs from babies to adults, as well as many other tortoise and reptile species that come from areas with a natural hibernation period.

While I have kept hibernating species awake through winter and I know others have successfully done it too, it is my opinion that species that hibernate in the wild should also hibernate in captivity. It just needs to be done correctly. Leaving them outside to figure it out and deal with the rigors of winter in the small spaces (like backyards) that we stick them in, is not my idea of doing it "correctly". I know far too many that have died this way. Don't let these horror stories from people who did not properly prepare, or hibernate their animals in a safe, controlled way, scare you. Hibernation is totally natural and totally safe when a few simple guidelines are observed. Simple Guidelines:
1. Bring them down, and up, gradually.
2. Make sure their gut is empty before dropping temps. Two weeks of no food with the normal warm temps should do it.
3. Make sure they are well hydrated by soaking them, before and after hibernation.
4. Make sure the temperature is consistent and cold enough for the entire hibernation time.
5. Don't let them do it in a self dug burrow in your backyard. NOT safe!

To keep them up: You will need to keep them warm, day and night. The enclosure needs to be nice and bright too, so add a 6500K florescent tube, if need be. I set lights to come on an hour or two before the sun comes up and stay on for a good two hours after the sun goes down. Daily warm soaks, or every other day, seems to help convince their brains that its not sleepy time. I would still give them outside time all winter long as long as its sunny and warm-ish. The sun really helps and we have such nice mild winters here in SoCal.

To hibernate them: The dangerous parts of hibernation (flooding, burrow collapse, rodents, temperature extremes, etc..) can all be eliminated by bringing them inside into controlled conditions and prepping them correctly. While they have adapted to survive these conditions out in the wild for millennia, our back yards are not the wild. Not even close. The shallow burrows they construct in our yards are not enough to protect them from the whims of a cruel mother nature, and as Yvonne adeptly pointed out, many of them don't survive hibernation in the wild, or outdoors in captivity either. I have hibernated all ages of DTs using the following methods: It is often said that "tortoises do better outside". True some of the time in some instances, but not all of the time in all instances. Most babies actually do better inside most of the time. As such, when night temps really start to drop, as they did about two weeks ago, I bring small hibernating species of tortoises inside to their indoor set ups every evening. I feed them up for a good two or three weeks, and soak them daily or every other day. Then I leave the timers and heat and everything on and running, but I quit feeding them. I give them around two weeks with no food, daily soaks, and warm day time temps, as usual. After those two weeks, I start adjusting the light timers down and raise the fixtures a bit to lower basking temps. I let night temps drop as low as is practical for indoors. I'll do this for another week or two. Then I put them into their individual hibernacula. I use plastic shoe boxes, or something similar, with a couple of inches of substrate on the bottom. I keep them dry at this time. In the past I've used non-functioning fridges or freezers laid on their backs in a cool area to keep the shoe boxes in. Currently the floor of my garage stays around 50-55 all winter and I've used that for the last few years. The problem is that we keep having these weird warm winters with daily highs in the 80s or 90s sometimes, for days or weeks on end. Good for my non-hibernating species, but not so good for the hibernators. This year I'm getting them a dedicated fridge, so I don't have to worry about the weather and I won't have to try to fight the temperature outside. I'll set it to around 45 degrees F. I let first timers go for 8-10 weeks under these controlled conditions. Older ones will go for 12-16 weeks. I watch the temps, but I don't mess with them during hibernation. When the weather starts to warm up, I gradually warm up the fridge and let warmer air into the hibernation area, and at some point after a few days, I pull them out, soak them in shallow room temp water, and put them back into their indoor enclosures with no heat. Just room temp. I soak daily for a bout two weeks. After a few days, I will turn the lights on. I leave the fixtures at their higher adjustment at first and gradually, over the course of a few days, lower them back down to get the right basking temps. After the tortoises activity level comes up, and they start moving around more, I will begin offering food, and letting them run around in their outdoor pens on warmer days, but I still bring them in to escape the cold nights. For older/bigger tortoises that can't come back inside, I simply use an outdoor heated night box to do just about the same thing. The night box more or less takes the place of the indoor enclosure and gives me a way to keep them warmer at night while preparing for hibernation or coming out of it.

The above methods have worked perfectly for me for many years with a wide variety of reptile species. The only time I ever lost an animal during hibernation is when I took the advice of a very knowledgeable man, who didn't understand our climate, and let my tegus hibernate outside as he did in his climate. I lost two out of three that year. It was heartbreaking.

I don't have set dates for any of this, and I sort of go by "feel" and the weather on either end of hibernation. If we have a long summer with a warm fall, I wait longer to put them down. If we have an early spring, I wake them up sooner. Generally I try to get them down by December, and get them up sometime in March.
 

Jodie

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I have memorized this response. :) What substrate do you use, and do I understand it is completely dry? Do you monitor humidity at all?
Thank you for the great info Tom!
 
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